Fred Bowden interview: The church and meeting my wife

We came in 1940 to Wimbledon, and in those days, church parades were compulsory. You had to go to church in the army. And the Prince of Wales company, which I was in at the time, it was decided I don’t know by whom, to have a parade service in the local church which was Emmanuel with the padre at the time the Reverend I think he was Culling...Reverend Cullingford. And we had that parade service, just us no-one else and that was the first time I entered the place. 

And then arising out of that, with this church hall, this assembly church hall in the garden, it was used as a canteen, as I say, for the troops. It was staffed by volunteer ladies which included what became my mother-in-law as one of them and a lot of younger ladies, including my wife. My pal in the army was David Evans who came from the Rhondda Valley. We used to go round together and this elderly lady, well she was elderly to us but she must have been in her 50s, mid 50s. Anyway, she invited a number of soldiers to her flat on a Sunday for tea and on this particular occasion David Evans and myself and her daughter would meet us outside the post office, near to post office, the pillar box in the High Street, to show us the way.

Well we got there a bit early, David and I, and she wasn’t in sight, so we set off to find this place Arlington Close and it wasn’t very far away. Arlington Close, it was just fairly near, and we had the number so we went there and we knocked on the door and that was it. We started going there then. That’s where we met. And one Saturday night we went to the cinema and things moved off from there. We, I remember, writing to my mother, cos we didn’t have phones in those days, asking if she could let me have some money to buy a ring. Because we decided to get engaged. And that was that. We, as I say, we moved in 1941 down to Midsomer Norton in Somerset and each Sunday night, after a church…chapel, it was chapel there…after each service I would ring, charges reversed from the local box. One Saturday night, I said to her, would it be a good idea if we got married? And that was the end of that.

I just wanted to get married. I didn’t have any money or prospects or nothing but was going to get married. That was the thing we did in those days.

Never been to London before, this was new. And we were 20-year-olds, army, and just doing our best and enjoying, mixing in with whatever was going and just taking what was coming. Difficult to say really. It was rather nice, she used to play the piano, used to sing hymns round the piano, being connected to the church. And that was it. But I took to Pansy - her name was - which I thought was a bit funny but nevertheless, and we were married for 50 years and 11 days. She had breast cancer, she died in ‘92 and there we are but that was that.